With the NFL Draft on the horizon, BTSC takes a look at the best of the Steelers’ Round Six picks since 1969.
The NFL Draft is coming up and the Steelers will, once again, rely building heavily through the draft instead of free agency. There are some rounds that the Steelers excel in. Of course, the first round the Steelers have brought in a plethora of Hall of Famers like Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Rod Woodson, Alan Faneca and Troy Polamalu. Teams are expected to find their best talent at the top of the draft. But the other rounds are where it becomes tougher. BTSC will go back to 1969 (when the Chuck Noll era began) and rank the best Round 6 picks in team lore. Rankings were aided somewhat by the Career Average Value stat from Pro Football Reference.
10) Orpheus Roye – Florida State (1996)
Orpheus Roye had a fine career at Florida State that led to the Steelers drafting of the defensive end in the seventh round of the 1996 season. The athletic big man played sparingly until a Nolan Harrison knee injury in 1998 gave Orpheus an opportunity to see action in all 16 games, while starting in nine. His initial career in black and gold concluded after a 1999 season in which he racked up 4 1/2 sacks. The Browns came calling with a big bag of cash (6 years/$30 million) for the 330-pounder that garnered 9.5 sacks in his four seasons. After seven years of starting in Cleveland, Roye was cut after suffering a knee injury. The Steelers re-signed number 71 and issued him a new number, No. 96, for the 2008 season. The defensive lineman played in a reserve role and had six tackles in six games. Although he was inactive for Super Bowl XLIII, he earned a ring to conclude a productive professional career that bookended as a member of the Steelers.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Roye in 1996: 1) Jamain Stephens – North Carolina A&T, 3a) Steve Conley – Arkansas, 3b) Jon Witman – Penn State, 4a) Earl Holmes – Florida A&M, 4b) Jahine Arnold – Fresno State, 5) Israel Raybon – North Alabama
Player drafted one spot ahead of Roye in 1996: Phillip Riley – Philadelphia Eagles (Forida State)
Player drafted one spot behind Roye in 1996: Hayward Clay – St. Louis Rams (Texas A&M)
9) Vince Williams – Florida State (2013)
Many consider Vincenzo Jerard Williams to be the soul and toughness of the Steelers defense. Uninvited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Vincenzo was drafted out of Florida State by the Steelers as a sixth rounder in 2013 and ended up starting 11 games as a rookie due to a torn bicep sustained by Larry Foote. In eight seasons as a Steeler, No. 98 has sacked opposing quarterbacks 20.5 times, including a career high of eight in 2017. In the second game against Seattle in 2019, Williams exited with a hamstring as the Steelers struggled mightily against the run during the first quarter of the season. When Williams returned in Week 5, the Steelers emerged as one of the best run defenses in the National Football League. During the first week of free agency, Vince was let go due to salary cap reasons as he was set to earn $7 million in 2021. Less than a month later, Williams agreed to return to the Steelers for the league minimum (for a player of his tenure) of $1.075 million despite higher offers from other teams.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Williams in 2013: 1) Jarvis Jones – Georgia, 2) Le’Veon Bell – Michigan State, 3) Markus Wheaton – Oregon State, 4a) Shamarko Thomas – Syracuse, 4b) Landry Jones, 5) Terry Hawthorne – Illinois, 6a) Justin Brown – Oklahoma
Player drafted one spot ahead of Williams in 2013: Stacy McGee – Oakland Raiders (Oklahoma)
Player drafted one spot behind Williams in 2013: Mike Catapano – Kansas City Chiefs (Princeton)
8) Tim Johnson – Penn State (1987)
Tim Johnson was a punishing defender and an All American on Penn State’s storybook National Championship team in 1986. Drafted in Round 6 in 1987, Johnson started 26 of 41 games in Pittsburgh and racked up 8.5 sacks. After a contract dispute following the 1990 season in which Johnson desired an average defensive tackle’s salary, The Steelers opted to trade him to the Redskins for a fourth-round pick instead of paying him. The pick netted Pittsburgh tight end Adrian Cooper, their ‘91 Rookie of the Year, but Johnson forged a solid career in Washington where he put up 20.5 sacks in six seasons and earned a Super Bowl ring his first season there. After a final single season in Cincinnati in 1997, Johnson retired after a solid ten years as a professional.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Johnson in 1987: 1) Rod Woodson – Purdue, 2) Delton Hall – Clemson, 3) Charles Lockett – Long Beach State, 4) Thomas Everett – Baylor University, 5) Hardy Nickerson (California)
Player drafted one spot ahead of Johnson in 1987: Paul O’Connor – New York Giants (Miami, Fla.)
Player drafted one spot behind Johnson in 1987: Freddie Robinson – Indianapolis Colts (Alabama)
7) Willie Williams – Western Carolina (1993)
Willie Williams was drafted out of Western Carolina in the sixth round of the 1993 draft the same season that the Steelers selected a corner in the first round, Colorado’s Deon Figures. However, No. 27 became the more prominent of the two defensive backs for the Steelers when his subbing for Rod Woodson, after an ACL tear in Week 1 of the Super Bowl year of 1995 resulted in a career-high seven interceptions that season. After the 1996 campaign, Williams departed for seven years in Seattle, but returned to the Steelers for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Willie Williams was the only Pittsburgh player to be a part of the Super Bowl XXX and Super Bowl XL teams.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Williams in 1993: 1) Deon Figures – Colorado, 2) Chad Brown, 3) Andre Hastings – Georgia, 4) Kevin Henry – Mississippi State, 5a) Lonnie Palelei – UNLV, 5b) Marc Woodard – Mississippi State
Player drafted one spot ahead of Williams in 1993: Eric Castle – San Diego Chargers (Oregon)
Player drafted one spot behind Williams in 1993: Derrick Oden – Philadelphia Eagles (Alabama)
6) Gary Dunn – Miami, Fla. (1976)
Possibly the best defensive player of the 1980s Steelers, Gary Dunn was a two-time Super Bowl champion in XIII and XIV and a mainstay on the Steelers’ defense for 12 seasons. The Miami Hurricane defensive lineman was a sixth round-pick in 1976 who never expected to stick on the loaded Steel Curtain. Dunn was just hoping to make $700 and play well enough to get on another team. But Gary played well enough that Chuck Noll kept an extra defensive lineman spot to retain Dunn. Named an All-Pro in 1984, No. 67 had 18 sacks and nine fumble recoveries during his Steelers days.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Dunn in 1976: 1) Bennie Cunningham – Clemson, 2a) Ray Pinney – Washington, 2b) Mike Kruczek – Boston College, 2c) James Files – McNeese State, 3a) Ron Coder – Penn State, 3b) Ernest Pough – Texas Southern, 4a) Wonder Monds – Nebraska, 4b) Theo Bell – Arizona, 5), Rodney Norton – Rice
Player drafted one spot behind Dunn in 1976: Terry Stieve – New Orleans Saints (Wisconsin)
5) Dwayne Woodruff – Louisville (1979)
As good as Woodruff was for 12 seasons for the Steelers, the work that the 1982 team-MVP ended up doing after his football career had an impact on more people. An important member of the SB XIV winning squad with two interceptions in the postseason, Woodruff was elected to serve as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in 2005. He also ran for openings on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but fell short. His 37 interceptions in 12 seasons ranks him fourth all-time in Pittsburgh. A standout defensive as No. 49 led or co-led the Steelers in interceptions for in 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Woodruff in 1979: 1) Greg Hawthorne – Baylor, 2) Zack Valentine – East Carolina, 3) Forfeited, 4a) Russell Davis – Michigan, 4b) Calvin Sweeney – USC, 5) Dwaine Board – North Carolina A&T, 6a) Bill Murrell – Winston-Salem
Player drafted one spot ahead of Woodruff in 1979: Mike Salzano – Dallas Cowboys (North Carolina)
Player drafted one spot behind Woodruff in 1979: Steve Lindquist – Miami Dolphins (Nebraska)
4) Bryan Hinkle – Oregon (1981)
The 80s were a down decade in the eyes of many, but the Steelers still won a couple of division titles and made an AFC Championship. On these teams, Brian Hinkle was a consistent presence on defense for most of the decade and into the 90s. Ranked 22nd all time on the team with 22.5 sacks, 23rd with 15 interceptions and 15th with 11 fumble recoveries, Hinkle was a defensive mainstay. A sixth rounder out of Oregon in 1981, Hinkle was never an All Pro or elected to a Pro Bowl. but he was a leader on a defense in the mold of his mentors, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Hinkle in 1981: 1) Keith Gary – Oklahoma, 2) Anthony Washington – Fresno State, 3) Rick Donnalley – North Carolina, 4) Robbie Martin – Cal Poly, 5) Ricky Martin – New Mexico
Player drafted one spot ahead of Hinkle in 1981: Sam Johnson – Detroit Lions (Maryland)
Player drafted one spot behind Hinkle in 1981: Ron Wooten – New England Patriots (North Carolina)
3) Tunch Ilkin – Indiana State (1980)
The Turkish-American tackle played 13 years as a member of the Men of Steel, before a final stint with the Green Bay Packers in 1993. A member of the Steelers All-Time Team, the sixth-rounder from Indiana State went to two Pro Bowls as a Steeler and was considered a great locker room leader. No. 62 served as Vice-President of the NFL Player Association from 1989 to 1994 as well. Tunch is still a very valuable member of the football family, serving as the team’s color commentator on radio broadcasts since 1998 and co-hosts The Locker Room with good friend and teammate, Craig Wolfley. Ironically, Wolf and Tunch were drafted in by the Steelers a round apart in 1980 as the last picks in the fifth and sixth rounds respectively. Sadly, Tunch Ilkin announced his having been diagnosed with ALS in October of 2020.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Ilkin in 1980: 1) Mark Malone – Arizona State, 2) Bob Kohrs – Arizona State, 2) John Goodman – Oklahoma, 3) Ray Sydnor – Wisconsin, 4) Bill Hurley – Syracuse, 5) Craig Wolfley – Syracuse
Player drafted one spot ahead of Ilkin in 1980: Larry Heater – Kansas City Chiefs (Arizona)
Player drafted one spot behind Ilkin in 1980: Eddie Murray – Detroit Lions (Tulane)
2) Greg Lloyd – Fort Valley State (1987)
The man who once wore a t-shirt that read “I wasn’t hired for my disposition” was a difference-maker on defense. The dominance of Greg Lloyd was first apparent when he three-counted out a Jets player in 1989. Lloyd, the leader of the famed “Blitzburgh” defense of the 1990s, ranks among all-time team leaders with 53.5 sacks and second with 15 fumble recoveries. The five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and two-time Steelers MVP is a member of Pittsburgh’s All-Time Team.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Lloyd in 1987: 1) Rod Woodson – Purdue, 2) Delton Hall – Clemson, 3) Charles Lockett – Long Beach State, 4) Thomas Everett – Baylor University, 5) Hardy Nickerson (California), 6a), Tim Johnson – Penn State
Player drafted one spot ahead of Lloyd in 1987: Ron Moten – Philadelphia Eagles (Florida)
Player drafted one spot behind Lloyd in 1987: Joe Onosai – Dallas Cowboys (Hawaii)
1) Antonio Brown – Central Michigan (2010)
His story is now complete in Pittsburgh and while his actions have him firmly as persona not grata in Pittsburgh, there’s no denying what AB did to the Steelers all-time record book. Brown led the NFL in 2015 with the second-most receptions in a single season in league history and boasts the single-season mark for yards and receptions in club history with 1,834 and 136 respectively. In his nine seasons as a Steeler, Brown ranks second on the team’s all-time receptions and second all-time in receiving yardage. His 17 receptions for 284 yards in 2015 against Oakland are both team records for a single game. The six-time Pro-Bowler and five-time All-Pro is the only player in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards in receiving and returns in a single season. Teaming with Tom Brady in Tampa, Brown caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl victory over Kansas City.
Steelers Players drafted ahead of Brown in 2010: 1) Maurkice Pouncey – Florida, 2) Jason Worilds – Virginia Tech, 3) Emmanuel Sanders – SMU, 4) Thaaddeus Gibson – Ohio State, 5a) Chris Scott – Tennessee, 5b) Crezdon Butler – Clemson, 5c) Stevenson Sylvester – Utah, 6a) Jonathan Dwyer – Georgia Tech
Player drafted one spot ahead of Brown in 2010: Ramon Harewood – Baltimore Ravens (Morehouse)
Player drafted one spot behind Brown in 2010: Jamar Wall – Dallas Cowboys (Texas Tech)
Notable No. Sixes: Jack Deloplaine (1976), Randy Reutershan (1978), Matt Bahr (1979), Craig Bingham (1982), Eric Williams (1983), Greg Carr (1985), Warren Williams (1988), Leroy Thompson (1991), Jim Miller (1994), Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala (1998), Rodney Bailey (2001), Chris Kemoeatu (2005), Ryan Mundy (2008), Jonathan Dwyer (2010), Daniel McCullers (2014), Anthony Chickhillo (2015), Colin Holba (2017), Isaiah Buggs (2019), Ulysses Gilbert III (2019), Antoine Brooks Jr. (2020)